You dole out an L&D learning program called, say, “business communication skills”, intended to be attended org-wide. The module has all the necessary info to help your people excel in the field of business communication, and you eagerly wait to see the results.
A day passes by. Then a week. More weeks, months, and quarters pass by. Nobody remembers the module even existed, let alone has anyone developed any new skill from it. And you’re left wondering why your L&D investment went down the drain.
According to TalentLMS, and The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 67% of all companies are increasing their L&D investments in 2022. People & Culture leaders are well aware of the high turnover rates as a result of The Great Resignation and are gearing up to make up for it with effective L&D programs for better retention. Unfortunately, most L&D programs fail to reach their mark and are forgotten soon after they’re delivered.
In most cases, there’s nothing wrong with the course content of your L&D program. It can be as entertaining, interactive, and informative as you want it to be. However, the problem isn’t the content of the program so much as how it’s being delivered to your people—in a single two-hour-long webinar smack in the middle of a busy Wednesday afternoon.
Why the Big Bang Approach Is a Waste of Time
The big bang approach, as it’s popularly referred to, is the delivering of an L&D program all at once, to all your people at once—an information dump, to be brief. And there’s more than one reason why this is one of the easiest ways to lose your L&D investment.
Let’s take a look at two graphical curves that help us understand why.
The Learning and Forgetting Curves
The learning curve is the curve that shows the strengthening of the concepts in the mind during the progress of the L&D event. During the learning curve, your understanding of the concepts covered in the program goes from 0% at the beginning of the program, and rise all the way to 100% by the end.
Here’s your typical L&D learning curve:
The brain absorbs information rapidly during the learning event. But as soon as the learning ends, the forgetting begins—meaning the learning curve is immediately followed by the forgetting curve. Beginning right at the end of the L&D event (when your retention is 100%), your understanding of the concepts covered in the program begins to drop. Within 20 minutes of no revision or review of the concepts, it falls to 58%. That’s a whopping 42% of the knowledge from your L&D program gone! And you only forget more with time.
Within a month of no revision of the concepts, you retain a mere 21% of your program. That means you’ve forgotten close to 80% of what you learned! This forgetting curve, also known as the ‘Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve’, is proof of the failure of the big bang approach. Bulk information, no matter how clearly explained, can, and will be forgotten without revision.
But why does this happen? And how do we fix this? The answer lies in the 70/20/10 rule.
The 70/20/10 Rule
The 70/20/10 rule states that 70% of learning comes from hands-on experiences and assignments, 20% from informal learning acquired from peer relationships, and the remaining 10% from coursework and training like your L&D programs.
What does this mean for you?
This means that if your L&D program consists of mere coursework and training without adequate opportunities for hands-on experience and peer learning, your people will retain only 10% of the learned concepts by the end. Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? This is why it’s time to take the focus of L&D programs away from CPE (continuous professional education) credits that measure their effectiveness quantitatively and place them on the actual business outcome delivered as a result of the programs. Let’s move on to the solution.
The Solution Lies in Lean Learning: Byte-sized Programs, Timed and Spaced Adequately
Now that we know why the big bang information dump is a huge waste of time and resources, let’s explore the solution—lean learning. Lean learning is a better process of conducting L&D programs in which the right learning is delivered to the right people at the right time, in bite-sized chunks.
1. Fix your timing. In most cases, L&D programs come at a time when they’re of little practical use to the learner. Granted, the skills imparted in today’s L&D program may prepare them for the next position in their career path tomorrow. However, without an opportunity to actively hone these skills, the forgetting curve takes its toll on the learned skills and slowly erases them from memory. That’s why L&D programs are best delivered when the individual has the right opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the learned concepts. As mentioned earlier, 70% of learning happens on the job.
2. Space them adequately and avoid the information overload. Our brains are wired to retain only so much information at a time. All the necessary information cramped into one long session is the perfect opportunity for the forgetting curve to disrupt your peoples’ retention of the concepts. Divide your program into bite-sized chunks and deliver them over the course of multiple sessions with adequate breaks in between. If you have a 1-hour module, divide it into two 30-minute sessions. Space them a couple of days apart so your people have enough time to apply the concepts from the first session and absorb them before moving on to the next session.
3. Add refreshers at later dates. To help your people escape the forgetting curve, give them opportunities to review the concepts at regular intervals. Each time you revise, the rate of forgetting slows down. A few reviews later, your forgetting curve will have flattened enough for you to retain the information adequately. Here’s a visual representation of how regular reviews help flatten the curve.
4. Promote collaboration. Under the 70/20/10 rule, we discussed that 20% of learning comes from developmental relationships—informal learning from peers. Encourage and provide opportunities for your people to communicate and collaborate with their colleagues regarding the concepts learned from their L&D program.
5. Provide feedback and immediate support options. As per McKinsey research, only 50% of organizations keep track of participants’ feedback about training programs. To ensure your people make the most of your L&D programs, provide immediate feedback and support options. This can be in the form of instant messaging platforms or chatbots that are ready to answer their queries and help them apply their learning.
1% Better Everyday Is Better Than 100% At a Stretch
You can’t expect everyone to sit through L&D programs and immediately retain 100% of the learned concepts for future use. Our brains are wired to retain only the information that’s actively and regularly exercised. What we don’t use, we forget.
That’s why the right combination of spacing, timing, revision, and collaboration can help maximize memory retention. With the lean learning process, you get to help your people progress professionally and reap the rewards of a highly skilled and competent workforce.